Posts filed under ‘ethics’

Being seen, not published…

I continue to lament the lack of the ‘published high’ I get from journalism while I work on my MPhil. However I’m emerging from this academic fugue for two conferences next month.

Firstly I’m heading to Canberra to present at the Australian Science Communicators conference, among other things. One of those other things is an interview – in Spanish – at the Chilean consulate, to get a working holiday visa for my move there at the end of April. You can keep up to date with that on my travel blog.

After Canberra I’ll return to Adelaide to volunteer at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following my fantastic adventure at WCSFP (the subject of my previous post). I wrote a roundup of my highlights from the WCSFP on my Nature blog, which has been woefully neglected since.

In Canberra I’ll be talking about how to avoid preaching to the converted in science engagement, as well as being part of a panel discussion on “Tools for Democracy and Dialogue”. This is the summary of my presentation:

Events aimed at public engagement with science often attract the same crowd.

They’re sometimes planned with little consideration for who will participate, beyond sheer numbers. So rather than representing a broad public, outcomes may represent people with above average interest in science and, studies suggest, socioeconomic status and education to match.

This raises issues of equality, and can limit the value of feedback from such events. As part of my research, I’ve looked at different ways participants have been recruited and what implications this has for outcomes of public engagement with science.

January 20, 2010 at 4:23 am Leave a comment

Public involvement in science policy?

National Science Week in August brought the usual onslaught of work for ACPFG’s communication and education team, including a mammoth effort from Education Manager Monica Ogierman and some invalu­able ACPFG volunteers at Science Alive at the Adelaide showgrounds.

This year we also ran some experimental public participation events for my research through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). I’m investigating whether public in­volvement in research funding decisions would impact public ownership and approval of research outcomes.

Three ACPFG scientists courageously vol­unteered their time and energy to pitch their research to the public, and be judged ac­cordingly. All three are exceptional science communicators and we went through their presentations together before the events; the order of the presenting scientists was changed for each of the three events to eliminate some potential problems with the voting process. Nonetheless, recent PhD graduate Darren Plett was the clear winner, much to the horror of established doctors Rachel Burton and Trevor Garnett.

The model for my research came from an event I was involved with while working in the UK in 2007. Based in Cambridge as a science journalist, I was asked to write a magazine story about an event hosted by the Institute for Food Research in the nearby city of Norwich. The results from that event are the subject of an upcoming paper in the journal Public Understanding of Science. It was a resounding success and I thought the method could be adapted well to Australia.

Running the 70-participant event at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, including distributing and collecting two lots of surveys, was a massive effort. So I enlisted the help of several volunteers, including ACPFG’s Melissa Pickering and visitor Sandra Schmoeckel, who sacrificed the start of dinner to take care of latecomers.

The two smaller events in Canberra were at The Front Cafe and Gallery, in Lyneham, supported by CPAS and part of the Australian Science Festival. The audience was a mix of federal public servants and sceptical students, who had some curly questions for the present­ing scientists.

I have yet to analyse the quantitative and qualitative survey data collected at the events, but the voting patterns at events in both coun­tries have been consistent. In all cases the least experienced male researchers took first prize, with the most established female researchers coming last. It appears the idea that the public would make fair decisions about science fund­ing needs to be met with some scepticism!

This article appears in Vector magazine – you can also read articles by two of the scientists who presented at these events in it.

October 6, 2008 at 7:44 am Leave a comment

Science: You Decide

I’m currently doing a research degree through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

I’m looking at how deliberative democracy could play a role in science policy in Australia.

I’m holding some events to gather data for my research. If you’re in Adelaide or Canberra you might like to attend.

August 1, 2008 at 10:20 pm 1 comment

Sustainability and Environment

In many ways, ‘sustainability’ is the buzz word for a new millennium. As finite resources run low, levels of production and consumption increase. And while trends show that we are making the effort to live greener lives, the problem of pollution has not gone away, with the UK dumping more household waste into landfill than any other EU country. This books defines sustainability, outlines sustainability challenges and explores some possible solutions.

The information in this book comes from a wide range of sources and includes government reports and statistics, newspaper reports, features, magazine articles and surveys, literature from lobby groups and charitable organisations.

You can read more about this book on the publisher’s website; you can buy it there, or on Amazon.

Editor: Cobi Smith and Lisa Firth
Publisher: Independence Educational Publishers
ISBN: 978 1 86168 419 6
Published: January 2008

March 12, 2008 at 4:44 am Leave a comment

The Cloning Debate

What is cloning? Is it ethical? What impact could it have on society? Recent advances in science have provoked debate about where cloning will take us. This book considers the social and ethical considerations of cloning, including whether cloning humans is acceptable, whether people are willing to eat cloned food and whether we should take advantage of medical therapies associated with cloning.

The information in this book comes from a wide range of sources including government reports and statistics, newspaper features, magazine articles, surveys and literature from lobby groups and charitable organisations.

You can read more about this book on the publisher’s website; you can buy it there, or on Amazon.

Editors: Lisa Firth and Cobi Smith
Publisher: Independence Educational Publishers
ISBN: 978 1 86168 410 3
Published: September 2007

January 10, 2008 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment


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